Data and Analytics Meet The Real World
Eric Speeth is a brilliant guy. If you want to learn about how businesses are applying data analysis to online marketing, he’s your guy. And he’s right here in Tampa. Buy him a beer (a really good beer) and you’ll learn more than you ever will from some high-priced consultant.
Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as the Manager of Analytics Operations at Triad Digital.
Eric Speeth: I’ve been involved with web development and online marketing for about 8 years. I began my career working for an asset management firm that operated around 20 startup, small and mid-sized businesses, some online and others brick and mortar. Soon after I started, the firm’s partners handed all site development and online marketing initiatives to me. I was young with limited experience. I felt overwhelmed and was extremely understaffed. I learned quickly that proving success meant that my time was best spent analyzing site and campaign initiatives in an effort to drive strategy, leaving the heavy development work to the experts. This plan worked well. Even given rudimentary tools, I was able to quantify success, build actionable strategies and help the firm achieve several major online objectives.
I continued exploring analytics through my tenure there and eventually made it my focus as I moved to Tampa and began consulting as a performance-based marketer. In 2008, I was recruited by Triad Digital Media and entered their organization as a web analyst. I was given the opportunity to lead their analytics relationship with several major publishers and advertisers and now manage the analytics operations and media implementation team for all Triad accounts.
Social Media Analytics
Mark Regan: How has your background in web analytics been applied to your tracking needs in the social media space?
Eric Speeth: Social is a hot topic with a lot of brands that I work with, both in expansion of retail opportunities and brand engagement/loyalty. Beyond sheer reach, arguably, a lot of what’s caused organizations to gravitate toward use of social channels is the value in measuring audience and action-based information.
When I first started seeing brands integrate socially, there weren’t many ways to evaluate success. From what was measurable, I would notice variable impact due to a lack of audience insight. It took several years for analytics to catch up. However, it’s now nearly the opposite. With tools like Facebook analytics, app integration with several analytics vendors and the plethora of independent social media monitoring tools (i.e. Radian 6, Viralheat), the ability to measure and optimize initiatives living in the social space is practically limitless. Now, the challenge to someone like myself is identifying what is truly valuable out of each initiative and finding ways to optimize those important metrics.
If I were to give an overarching recommendation to brands/businesses marketing through social channels it would be to leverage the value of capturing demographic and user activity data to find your target audience. Free or low cost tools like Viralheat can help easily dashboard and allow you to take action on this information. Next, do everything you can to “close the loop”. Facebook and Twitter are great mechanisms for initiating engagement, entertaining your audience or leading them to your brand’s next conversion point, but they aren’t all inclusive destinations (not yet anyway). Make sure you are tracking social visitation through to purchase/conversion paths. Channel/campaign variables are capable of tracking this in nearly every modern analytics solution whether your using Google Analytics, Coremetrics, Webtrends or Site Catalyst.
Big Business and Web Analytics
Mark Regan: You’ve worked with many Fortune 500 companies, regarding web analytics what do you think big business does better than small to medium-size businesses?
Eric Speeth: A lot of larger businesses have recognized the power that analytics-driven strategy brings to the to their organization. Almost every major marketing publication mentions analytics strategy at least once per issue, newsletter or blog post. Big business eats this up. Once a larger entity decides to pursue an analytics focused model, their budgets allow them to recruit top talent who know and believe in analytics from executives to analysts. This top-down support system enables them to roll out best-in-class analytics solutions, testing platforms and research models that really help drive major strategic decisions. It can take years to build a platform that is optimized for success. However, once this framework is in place, that organization will have a huge upper hand against the competition.
Mark Regan: What surprises you about what the big firms don’t do so well?
Eric Speeth: Big firms aren’t generally nimble. Once a company gets to a certain critical mass, there are meetings just to discuss other upcoming meetings. Marketing strategy and media spends can be forecasted out a year or more in advance with little consideration for the need to change mid-stride. Even though they know its in their best interest, a large organization may not be able to act on a change until they can brainstorm about it, get funding and resource approval for it, develop project plans against it, then finally execute on it. Analysis needs are becoming much more real-time which means a smaller entity where only a few individuals are making the marketing decisions can react more responsively to change. It also means that they can fail and learn faster. This is something that several big businesses struggle with.
Small Business Tactics
Mark Regan: If you owned a small business what steps would you take to manage your online marketing activities knowing you had a limited budget?
Eric Speeth: Setting strategic and measurable goals is probably the most important first step a small business can take towards driving a successful marketing strategy. Being able to break those goals down over a one-year period into quarters, then months will also help give better perspective on where you need to be over shorter periods of time in order to achieve those longer 1+ year targets. One myth I’d like to dispel is that setting short or even long term goals DOES NOT require pinpoint accurate benchmarks or elaborate forecasting methodologies, but all goals should be actionable and impacting (i.e. increasing brand reach in social or viral channels, optimizing on-site conversion paths, further identifying audience segments, etc.).
Once you’ve identified a strategy to reach those goals, its important to spend your budget wisely. One piece of advice I would lend is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Spending all of your dollars on one three month awareness initiative may not magically bring an audience back for the rest of the year. It’s also extremely important to stay targeted, focused and relevant with your campaigns (geographically, demographically, socioeconomically, seasonally, etc.).
With that in mind, it’s vital to purchase media through outlets that are able to demonstrate they are reaching your desired audience while they’re in the right mindset. Signing a long-term agreement with a media partner without running test or trial campaigns is probably not a good choice. Make any media channel prove its worth before making a really expensive mistake. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that you should always take advantage of relevantly marketing yourself on any low or no-cost media channels (be it social, viral, etc.).
Lastly, be aware of how you plan on learning more about your audience and improving your campaign as you continue your spend throughout the year. The best way to do this is through a combination of free surveys, creative testing and optimization. If you aren’t setting up your site and your marketing campaigns on some kind of optimization platform (Google Website Optimizer, Omniture Test & Target, etc.), you aren’t maximizing your marketing dollars. A terrific book that answers questions on how to do this using free tools and few resources is called Always Be Testing and is a must read for any business that wants to set themselves up to maximize their marketing testing and optimization efforts.
Mark Regan: Looking ahead 12-24 months, what tools should vendors in the online marketing space develop to help people like you?
Eric Speeth: One challenge we face in analytics is the integration/centralization of data between marketing tools. To put it simply, the ability to tie data together quickly and easily throughout all of your initiatives doesn’t exist. Right now, you have two choices:
- Pull data manually out of a dozen or more tools and put it all together into a sensible report, then spend whatever remaining minutes you have to compile insight or
- Convince your organization to buy expensive servers and software, then hire a team of database professionals to integrate and manage your marketing analytics for you. Next, hire a dedicated resource to pull all that information together into a beautiful report where you, as a marketer, can spend your time extracting insight and driving strategy.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I am at those options. The data already exists, it just doesn’t exist where you need it to (in a report with other information from other tools). Paying to extract and store a copy of the data isn’t a sustainable practice. Neither is paying a team of database professionals to manage and compile that information. I foresee a lot of progress being made on this, maybe not in the next two years, but certainly in the next five.
Location-Based Social Networks
Mark Regan: Bonus question: What are your thoughts on location-based social networks like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places? How do you see this concept helping businesses?
Eric Speeth: As mobile device technology continues to grow, location-based applications could undoubtedly have a HUGE impact on a brick & mortar business’s success. The more prevalent your organization is on these networks, the more opportunities you are giving yourself to succeed in the future.
Speaking in the current, even something as simple as Google Maps and their use of reviews/recommended listings leveraging feeds from Yelp!, Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor, etc. has opened businesses up to a sort of transparency that can literally make or break them. If a business is smart, they are monitoring their reputations very closely to see what their customers are saying, learning from their mistakes and actively seeking to correct them. They should also be participating in real-time marketing opportunities. Whether that involves tweeting a one-day promo code or running a campaign through Groupon, smart businesses should realize that the next step beyond monitoring and managing their reputation is to be as active as its customers are through use of real time promotions. I foresee location-based networks to hold even further value as additional features are developed to allow for more functional marketing opportunities within them.
Mark Regan: Thanks Eric! How can people find out more about your analytics work and connect with you?